Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post) come Diderot’s thoughts on the difference between decency and indecency, or, by extension, the difference between erotica and pornography. According to Diderot, “it is the difference between a woman who is seen and a woman who exhibits herself.”
Here are Diderot’s thoughts in full from an unidentified translation:
“A nude woman isn’t indecent. It’s the lavishly decked out woman who is. Imagine the Medici Venus is standing in front of you, and tell me if her nudity offends you. But shoe this Venus’ feet with two little embroidered slippers. Dress her in tight white stockings secured at the knee with rose-colored garters. Place a chic little hat on her head, and you’ll feel the difference between decent and indecent quite vividly. It’s the difference between a woman seen and a woman displaying herself. (translator unidentified, probably John Goodman)
“Une femme nue n’est point indécente. C’est une femme troussée qui l’est. Supposez devant vous la Vénus de Médicis, et dites-moi si sa nudité vous offensera. Mais chaussez les pieds de cette Vénus de deux petites mules brodées. Attachez sur son genou avec des jarretières couleur de rose un bas blanc bien tiré. Ajustez sur sa tête un bout de cornette, et vous sentirez fortement la différence du décent et de l’indécent. C’est la différence d’une femme qu’on voit et d’une femme qui se montre.”
Please do not take Diderot too seriously when it comes to eroticism, I’ve previously written on Diderot’s hypocrisy. In my view, if it isn’t indecent, it isn’t erotic. That is why I do not consider many pieces of erotic art, erotic at all since they do not provoke erotic arousal. Shame is the most powerful aphrodisiac.
Title page from the Carlos Schwabe illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.
One thing inevitably leads to another:
On opening my copy of The Romantic Agony for the nth time brought up this passage:
“That poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking, and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast” writes Baudelaire in an unpublished preface to a 2nd preface of The Flowers of Evil (translation by Marthiel and Jackson Mathews).
Beautiful isn’t it, this trying to connect poetry to cuisine and cosmetics via adjectives and nouns in logical combinations, evoking diverse sentiments?
It’s funny on how returning to the blogosphere after saying goodbye to it for quite some years, I bump straight into an old virtual friend when searching for “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili + Bomarzo + elephant”. The friend in question runs the fascinating culture blog Journey to Perplexity.
The reason I googled the words above was that my Dutch edition (translated by Ike Cialona) of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili claims that Colonna’ work inspired these works of architecture:
- Grotta di Buontalenti by Bernardo Buontalenti and Giambologna’s famous Bathing Venus in the Boboli Gardens
- Ercole Ferrata’s Elephant and Obelisk
- Giovanni Battista Vaccarini’s u Liotru
- Gigantomachia fresco by Giulo Romano
- Santa Maria della Salute by Baldassarre Longhena
- Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo
One thing leading to another, as they usually do, I found this  fascinating woodcut, of which the colour palette reminds me of Japanese woodcuts.
I wonder if the plate is part of Cranach’s illustrated version of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible? Anyone?
Both horror and the fantastique are just as much rooted in fascination as in revulsion, ergo in ambiguity of emotions. And what could be more ambivalent and cause more ‘mixed feelings’ than slimy slugs and snails ‘getting it on’, an act which may involve hermaphroditism, firing love darts (a source of the Cupid myth, state some sources), apophallation (gnawing at stuck penises) and even sexual cannibalism?
Of course, the attentive reader will have noticed that in the photo of ‘Courtship in the edible snail, Helix pomatia’ the soft bodies of the snails look exactly like the labia majora of an adult female human mammal.
It needs not to be said that the whole field of animal sexuality is highly fascinating and has been represented in art not often enough. Apart from Microcosmos, there has been Green Porno and the magnificent films of Jean Painlevé (Acera, or the Witches’ Dance comes to mind).
Of all the works I re-examined while reading Hans Holländer‘s Hieronymus Bosch: Weltbilder und Traumwerk, the detail of The Last Judgment (Bosch triptych fragment) is the one that caught my attention most. Just look at this delightful brightly coloured critter!
Ultimately, I find it very satisfying that nothing of the work of Bosch can be said with certainty.
So: in praise of uncertainty!
The Seven Deadly Sins (2011) is a video animation by Belgian artist Antoine Roegiers based on The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel is the best-known Bosch follower and Karel van Mander called him “Pieter the Droll” in his Schilder-boeck:
- “Oock sietmen weynigh stucken van hem, die een aenschouwer wijslijck sonder lacchen can aensien, ja hoe stuer wijnbrouwigh en statigh hy oock is, hy moet ten minsten meese-muylen oft grinnicken.”
- “There are few works by his hand which the observer can contemplate solemnly or with a straight face. However stiff, morose or surly he may be, he cannot help chuckling or at any rate smiling.”
- — Here reprinted in F. Grossmann’s translation (Bruegel, The Paintings, [London, Phaidon Press, n.d.], pp. 7 ff.)
The Four Seasons are a series of four paintings by Joos de Momper, allegorically depicting spring, summer, autumn and winter in the form of anthropomorphic landscapes. As of 2013, all four of these paintings are in private collections. At least one of them is believed to be in the collection of Robert Lebel. I saw all four of them over the weekend in Lille, France at the superb exhibition Flemish Landscape Fables. This weekend is your last chance to get a look at them.
The Jamnitzers were a family of goldsmiths who lived in the 16th century. They worked for very rich people and filled the ‘Schatzkammer‘ of Northern Europe with highly luxurious items, fuelling the general economy.
However, it is their works on paper which interest us here.
First there is the father, Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/08 – 1585). He is the author of Perspectiva Corporum Regularium (1568), a fabulous work on perspective and geometry. Of special interest in the Perspectiva is a series of architectural fantasies of spheres, cones and tori.
Second there is the grandson, Christoph Jamnitzer (1563–1618). Where his grandfather favoured mathematical precision and the sounding voice of reason, the grandson, author of Neuw Grottessken Buch (1610), favoured sweeping curvilinearity, abject grotesqueries and feasts of unreason. The most famous print of Neuw Grottessken Buch is the Grotesque with two hybrid gristly creatures, shown left.
If you see the work of grandfather and grandson side by side, both Jamnitzers seemed to have been plagued by the sleep of reason, the grandfather suffering from nightmares of abandonment and the grandson challenged by nightmares of being overwhelmed by the dark forces of nature.
In September 2009 I bade you farewell.
I’m back with a book, a history of erotica which starts in prehistory and ends for now with Henry Fuseli, J. – J. Lequeu and Marquis de Sade.
It features some 250 images and about as many citations.
It is for the time being only available in Dutch and costs 25 euros.
The book was presented on the evening of valentine’s day, 2011.